The last week I was managing a big migration for a client when the development team was very short on time. Needless to say it wasn’t smooth which made me think that there needs to be more communication between SEOs and developers for both our sakes but that is probably a discussion for another day.
What I think will be more useful right now is to cover a few of the essential elements and strategies when planning a migration and issues that I’ve picked up along the way.
1 Agree the URL structure
In my particular case the development team threw a curveball at me 12 hours before launch mentioning that the entire URL structure will change, this meant I had to redo the 301 strategies below. It’s less than ideal and if you feel like not going grey it’s a good idea to get the URL structure in writing as far in advance as possible, in writing, in triplicate if possible. Stone tablet might also be good.
2 Analyse your content awesomeness
Over time websites change and a lot of the time keeping up on the link reclamation can be a pretty big task but now is the best time to start with a clean sheet. Pull out your dead pages, soft 404s and anything else that’s been making you grey for the past few months and build up a list. Start planning the ideal pages for this traffic in the new site and prep the 301 for it. Hopefully you’ll have the URLs from step 1 so you’re good to go. Its laborious but very worth it.
3 Content, content and more content
If you’re shifting the platform chances are someone drew the short straw and is currently migrating content across. To me this is the ideal time to re-evaluate all the content they are copying across from titles and tags to page copy. Pull out the landing page reports from analytics and correlate the bounce rates against the current copy. Notice anything bouncing a lot or having particularly low engagement or conversion metrics? If so rewrite it or if you have some time run a few heat maps or some other CRO tests on it to determine the problem. Fix that in the new platform for conversion wins. Don’t leave conversion decisions to the HIPPO.
4 Redirects are now your best friend
Probably the most essential thing is to ensure the cut over is as clean as possible from a bots perspective and that means a shedload of 301s. I find the best way to do this is to generate a content report from your analytics and start an excel spread sheet with the old and new URL. Different platforms have different mapping rules but all of them need an original and new URL so it usually works. A bit of excel wizardry and you can send the mapping files across to the developers to implement. I then set this up on a testing bot I wrote that tests all the redirects and emails me any errors. (If you want it feel free to hit me up for it) I typically set this up on a scheduler afterwards so if any 301s break in the future I’m the first to know about it. Typically it includes this list and the list from #2.
5 Get under the hood
I find one of the skills I use most here is my development ones. Speaking to the platform developers and understanding potential pitfalls before they start creates a rapport between the SEO and development team which is essential come the 11th hour of a site launch. Mention the steps above and how important it is to preserve the SEO traffic. I find this also highlights a few SEO issues when they feel that the same page on a different URL is not a bad thing!
If the time scale is short I normally ask for a similar website example if it’s a common platform and test the hell of that to become familiar with the platform’s quirks and limitations.
6 On the day and every day after for at least a week
- Check the robots.txt , often that’s not right and has been pulled from the staging site which you don’t want indexed. If they don’t do it on day one you can almost guarantee it happening as iterations go live so keep testing it!
- Setup and check the new xml sitemaps
- Check the index and click most of the ranking pages to check that the user is seeing the same as the bot
- Check your analytics are all working and the traffic volumes for big drops. Run a weighted sort report on your landing pages to compare bounce rates before and after. Spikes can indicate incorrect 301s.
7 Follow up
Once live there will always be areas that you didn’t see or had to wait a few days for. Follow up daily highlighting the severity of issues and the likely outcome if they don’t get prompt attention. I find sending daily priority lists helps gets things done in a timely fashion. There may be other areas that you get to tune and other content opportunities and now is the time to let those creative juices flow to take the onsite strategy to the next level. You have a brand new toy, think of all the amazing opportunities to play!
Once the dust has settled start measuring the conversion rates of the old vs. new. No one likes knowing their brand new baby is a bit ugly in certain places but highlighting that quickly you can save the business a lot of revenue in potential lost earnings. It’s a difficult conversation to have but you need to or it will be affecting your bottom line ROI.
So that’s my recipe for migration I hope it helps and if there’s anything you think I forgot please do add it to the comments below!